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Blocking food to Gaza will have life-long health impact on children, Save the Children warns

January 11, 2024 at 8:59 am

Gazan children are viewed around makeshift tents as they are trying to continue their lives under harsh conditions, in Rafah, Gaza on January 09, 2024 [Abed Zagout/Anadolu Agency]

Denying children in Gaza access to food and basic supplies will have lifelong consequences for their health, Save the Children warned.

Since 7 October, an Israeli-imposed siege has left all one million children in Gaza without enough to eat, including about 335,000 children under five now at risk of severe malnutrition or starvation.

Palestinians are unable to find essential food items in markets. One Save the Children staff member in Rafah in the south of Gaza said her eight-year-old child often goes to bed hungry because they are unable to cook anything without gas. 

A World Food Programme (WFP) report found that the prices of essential items like cooking gas had surged by about 435 per cent in the past three months. Food aid distributions continue to be largely limited to Rafah, with other areas rarely reached by humanitarian agencies.

“There is a severe shortage of food, particularly in northern Gaza, which has been almost completely cut off from aid,” the charity said. Organisations providing food assistance have found that families’ food supplies are depleting more quickly than can be replenished through the trickle of aid allowed into Gaza. Two-thirds of shops in Gaza have reported that essential goods have depleted in recent weeks, including flour, eggs and dairy, according to WFP.

Global Head of Policy & Advocacy, Health and Nutrition at Save the Children, Hannah Stephenson, said: “This is an entirely man-made catastrophe that is causing devastating physical and mental harm to children, with potentially deadly and life-altering consequences.”

As children in Gaza experience worsening hunger, their bodies become weaker. They will become acutely malnourished. Their muscles begin to waste away, their vision blurs, their immune systems fail. Disease is inevitable, with pneumonia and diarrhea the leading killers of children in this weakened state. The children who survive the bombardment but are pushed to starvation will be stunted, experiencing irreversible impacts to their physical and cognitive abilities.

With restrictions on commercial goods entering Gaza and local food severely damaged, humanitarian aid remains the 2.3 million population’s main lifeline. But intensified violence, recurrent communication blackouts, restrictions on items allowed in and a cumbersome, bureaucratic process to send aid into Gaza have crippled the humanitarian response.

In recent weeks, NGO-supported shelters, hospitals and even aid convoys have come under fire. Over the last several months, the Israeli authorities have denied goods from entering Gaza that include items used for cooking and drinking such as solar-powered generators,and refrigerators, as well as water purification devices, according to humanitarian agencies. All these items are essential for an effective aid response at the scale needed to save lives in Gaza.

“Israeli authorities are denying children in Gaza access to lifesaving food and services. The deprivation of sufficient food, water, and medicine is rendering child survival in Gaza nearly impossible. Families are being isolated into areas unable to sustain human life,” Elizabeth White, a Save the Children director in the occupied Palestinian territory, said.

Children who survive the bombing campaign, she explained, “will likely face lifelong physical and mental health issues, robbing a generation of any chance of a healthy life and future.”

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